Philosophy, Curriculum Theory, and Instructional Models

Subject: Education
Pages: 11
Words: 2760
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: College

Curriculum Philosophy and Ideology

Philosophy is one of the major factors which predetermine the structure, goals, and content of the curriculum. Usually, the philosophy is accepted in a particular school. Often a school supports several philosophies. Such an approach provides a dynamic character of the curriculum. According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2015), philosophy helps educators in general and curriculum workers in particular to “determine what schools are for, what subjects have value, how students learn, and what methods and materials to use” (p. 7).

Philosophies make clear the aims of the curriculum, its content outlines teaching and learning processes and focuses on the core activities of the school. The curriculum philosophy also influences the selection of textbooks, the character of the assignments, the structure of tests, and course topics (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015). The suggested curriculum will be grounded on the combination of philosophies of pragmatism and existentialism.

Pragmatism, which is often called experimentalism, is “based on change, process, and relativity” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015, p. 50). While idealism and realism focus on the subject matter, pragmatism treats knowledge “as a process in which reality is constantly changing” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015, p. 50). Such an approach is suitable for education in the world, which is constantly changing. It empowers the preparation of students to life realis and provides them with flexible knowledge. Tasks designed in accordance with the philosophy of pragmatism involve problem-solving, which can be applied in diverse circumstances.

Pragmatism concentrates on critical thinking. Teaching is constructed to be rather exploratory than explanatory (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015). Peirce and James outlined the principles of pragmatism, which rejects “the dogmas of preconceived truths and eternal values”, and “promotes testing and verifying ideas” (as cited in Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015, p. 50). Educators also have a particular interpretation of pragmatism.

For example, Dewey treated education as “a process for improving the human condition” (as cited in Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015, p. 50). He also considered schools to be specific environments inside a wider environment, which is society. Consequently, the pragmatic curriculum is grounded on children’s experiences and is aimed at the preparation of students to the real changing life.

Existentialism is more typical for Europe, while pragmatism is mainly American. The idea of existentialist philosophy is revealed in the fact that “people continually make choices and thereby define themselves” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015, p. 50). Those choices make the way to self-identification. If applied to education, existentialist philosophy supports the freedom of students’ choice. It includes both the place of study and the educational content.

The disadvantage of this approach is the lack of systematic character of education, which can influence the level of knowledge and discipline. Nevertheless, the existentialists consider “knowledge of the human condition” to be the priority (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015, p. 50). Thus, the role of education is in the development of choices consciousness and making the students realize the significance of their choices. Existentialist philosophy does not accept many rules, norms, or authorities. On the one hand, it can have a negative effect on the education process. Also, it introduces freedom of choice, which is not typical to the majority of educational programs.

Summing up, it should be mentioned that pragmatism promotes knowledge based on one’s experience and the application of the scientific method in acquiring knowledge. At the same time, existentialism advocates knowledge for personal choice (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015). The teacher’s role is also diverse in these philosophies. In pragmatism, the teacher is expected to develop the skills of critical thinking and consider scientific processes.

In existentialism, the teacher is supposed to teach students to make personal choices and achieve self-definition. The combination of these philosophies in the Social Studies Curriculum will mean its focus on the preparation of students to problem-solving tasks and changing reality together with the development of the ability to make choices.

In addition to philosophies, ideologies are also important in education in general and in curriculum development in particular. Eisner (2002) defines curriculum ideologies as “beliefs about what schools should teach, for what ends, and what reasons” (p. 47). As a rule, schools have several ideologies which direct their activity. There are six major curriculum ideologies (Eisner, 2002). Although each of them comprises certain values and views on the curriculum, there is no single definition for every ideology since they are often treated differently by the followers.

For the social studies curriculum, the ideologies of Progressivism and Critical Theory can be applied. Progressivism in education can be realized through the focus on a student as a whole. In my school, this educational philosophy supports experimentation to test or prove students’ ideas. It can be used in the new curriculum to make it suitable for the individual progress of students and change in the education process. Another ideology applicable to the curriculum in social sciences is a Critical Theory. Its application as a school ideology provides students with the knowledge to understand and analyze contemporary society ant its processes.

In my school, the implementation of this ideology stimulated the development of social clubs and discussion groups. The assignments of the new curriculum should also include elements of discussion and critical evaluation of society and culture.

Curriculum Theory

The issue of the curriculum theory is the one that provokes much discussion. It determines the application of the curriculum, its development and design, and, finally, the evaluation of the curriculum. Kliebard (1982) treats curriculum theory as a metaphor. He believes that previously existing curriculum theory, which is mental discipline, does not satisfy the educational needs. According to Kliebard, metaphors “as elements in models and theories may be fruitful, leading to powerful explanations” (1982, p. 14). However, generally, the curriculum can be defined as “a plan for achieving goals” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015, p. 26).

Such a definition was characteristic of Tyler and Taba, who supported the behavioral approach to the curriculum. John Dewey is considered a scholar whose ideas were used to develop the Social Studies Curriculum (Egan, 1980). Dewey treated the child’s mind as “a passive and reluctantly receptive organ into which knowledge, logically organized, might with some difficulty and force be impressed” (Egan, 1980, p. 38).

In contrast to this idea, the psychological approach considered a child’s mind as “naturally active and full of impulses to explore the world” (Egan, 1980, p. 38). This difference in treatments resulted in two famous educational recommendations. The first one deals with the content of the curriculum. It should be selected to stimulate a child’s mind, which is naturally active, to discover the surrounding world. The second recommendation deals with the methods of teaching and learning. These methods are expected to stimulate a continuous increase in learning in the best possible way (Egan, 1980).

There are three major focuses on the curriculum. It can be learner-centered, society-centered, and knowledge-centered (Ellis, 2014). I consider the learner-centered approach to be suitable for the social studies curriculum. Focus on students’ needs, interests, or backgrounds, and freedom in education choices has a positive impact on students’ determination and learning success. It also makes students more responsible and interested in the process of learning.

Every field of knowledge demands specific models of teaching and curriculum design model. When it comes to Social Studies, the Basic Processing Models of Teaching are among the suitable ones (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015). Their peculiar feature is the focus on “seeking and operating on information” (Joyce et al., 2015, p. 36). These models provide students with a universal tool that can be used during their studies. It enables students to manage a lot of information which can be found on the Internet and lets them use this information for education. Although these models deal with the instruction, they can be considered in the curriculum.

Curriculum Design Model

Varied approaches can be used to develop a curriculum. One of the most famous curriculum models is that of Tyler. The author proposed four major starting points to investigate the development of the curriculum. They include “purpose(s) of the school; educational experiences related to purposes; organization of experiences; and evaluation” (Chou & Tsai, 2002, p. 624). As an alternative to Tyler’s rationale, Doll (2013) suggested four R’s for curriculum, which includes richness, recursion, cultural relations, and rigor.

When it comes to the curriculum approach in Social Studies related to the Basic Processing models, the approach suggested by Hilda Taba should be mentioned. It is more complex than that of Tyler and is expected to be more effective. Tyler himself was a pragmatist. However, his viewpoints were influenced by the preceding postpositivist ideas. He considered his approach to curriculum to be pragmatic because he realized there were limited resources available to develop and implement the curriculum.

Taba’s view on curriculum development was similar to Tyler’s. Thus, it can be concluded that her model is related to the philosophy of pragmatism. Both Tyler’s and Taba’s models help to create a curriculum that considers students’ needs and provides them with an opportunity to choose. It relates the approaches of these scholars to the philosophy of existentialism, which is focused on the choice and its influence on personality.

The rapid development of information technologies demands the development of a new curriculum that will meet the needs of time. Taba’s model can be applied for the development of a modern curriculum. The model suggested by Taba consists of several stages (Chou & Tsai, 2002). First of all, it is necessary to define target students and their needs. It is the task of teachers and curriculum workers to define the students’ audience for whom the new curriculum will be created.

Proper identification of the audience is expected to increase the efficiency of the curriculum. Secondly, it is important to identify instructional objectives. After the target students and their needs are determined, particular “instructional objectives in the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains” should be outlined (Chou & Tsai, 2002, p. 624). The third step includes the choice of the scope of subject content. It follows the stage of objectives definition.

The fourth stage is used to organize sequence and structure of the curriculum. The content for the curriculum cannot be selected randomly. It should be organized in a sequence or structure which will make it more comprehensible. Another stage comprises the selection of presentation methods and media. They should correspond the organization of content. Teachers and curriculum designers should be careful in the choice of the suitable media which will be used to present the created curriculum.

Next step in the curriculum development is the design of assessment activities. Assessment is a significant for any curriculum because it allows evaluation of student learning considering the stated objectives. Moreover, it provides the information which empowers evaluation of the success of curriculum design and implementation. Finally, the last stage includes the implementation of formative evaluation. Every curriculum, before it is implemented in a broad practice, should pass some formative evaluations (Chou & Tsai, 2002). They are aimed to reveal and eliminate weaknesses and drawbacks in the suggested curriculum. These evaluations provide an opportunity to improve and check the design of the curriculum before its implementation into practice.

Curriculum Organization

Curriculum organization should address needs of contemporary schooling. According to Schwartz, modern students “need to be taught scientific thinking and creativity” (as cited in Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015, p. 177). Before specifying curriculum design, it is necessary to define the grade of students who make the target audience. Current proposal is oriented on grade 5 students. Schooling for this age group includes some tasks such as “developing concepts for everyday living; developing morality and a set of values; achieving personal independence; and developing (democratic) attitudes toward social groups and institutions” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015, p. 153).

Thus, curriculum is expected to recall these tasks. Following Taba’s curriculum model, students’ needs should be outlined. For this target audience, the primary needs include knowledge, skills, and perspectives. Social studies curriculum should make students informed, responsible, active, caring and productive individuals, dignified citizens of their country.


The course in social studies will empower the students to grow into responsible and active citizens able to integrate in varied communities. Moreover, it is expected to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Finally, the students will learn how to apply these skills to deal with daily problems and transfer important information.


In social studies, students are supposed to:

  • Develop the comprehension of responsible citizenship;
  • Develop the comprehension of variety on local, national and global levels in different periods of time;
  • Develop the comprehension of interdependence and interrelation of human world and natural environment;
  • Acquire the knowledge, comprehension, and skills necessary for further studies (history, geography, law, economics, etc.);
  • Stimulate curiosity and research skills to teach students to investigate various events.

Interdisciplinary character of social studies allows using diverse teaching models. For example, learning to learn inductively is one of the possible models (Joyce et al., 2015). Its organizing idea is formulated as “Building categories that hold information and let us manipulate them is possibly the basic component of what we consider to be intelligence. To look at a scene and see beyond the specific items to how they belong together… well, think about what that means to us” (Joyce et al., 2015, p. 37). It means that students do not only learn some information but try to see more than is shown in the book.

Another possibility for the new curriculum is the picture of world inductive model. This model comprises “inquiry-oriented” approach to literacy development (Joyce et al., 2015, p. 91). One more model which can bring new approaches to teaching social studies is that of group investigation (Joyce et al., 2015, p. 243). It was empowered by the ideas of Dewey. Group investigation presupposes the organization of students into problem-solving groups and teaching them “democratic procedures and scientific methods of inquiry (Joyce et al., 2015, p. 247). The aim of this model is to create experience-based situations which can be later transformed to life situations. In this model, teacher plays a facilitative role helping learners to plan, act, and manage activities within a group.

There will be two major directions in social studies curriculum. The first one is “People’s heritage and national identity” and the second one is “people and environments around them.” Each of them has specific topic for every grade. Thus, for grade 5 they are “National communities in the country in past and present” and “Responsible citizenship and the influence of Government on the people” correspondently.

Since one of the aims of social studies curriculum is the creation of the inquiry process, its model should be analyzed. Thus, the model of the inquiry process includes (1) question formulation; (2) selection of information and data and their management; (3) interpretation and analysis of the collected information and data; (4) assessment of information and data followed by making conclusions; and (5) disclosing the findings. This approach will enable students to put questions and find answers to them.

The curriculum demands the development of some spatial skills. For example, they include literacy (connected with the use of maps or graphs); mathematical literacy (is revealed in the ability to work with maps or graphs); technology (can be applied during work with interactive maps).


Curriculum should be evaluated at least two times. First of all, it is evaluated after the development before implementation. It is necessary to check if it corresponds the demands of national standards in this field and meets the needs if the target audience. The second evaluation after the implementation phase is aimed to assess the efficiency of the curriculum and correspondence of goals and results. Also, the curriculum should be evaluated in the course of its implementation to reveal possible drawbacks and enable their improvement.

One of the means and stages to assess curriculum is observation (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015). It includes collecting data which can provide an explicit picture of curriculum efficiency. They include written tests, students’ portfolios, and direct observation of students. Another stage of curriculum evaluation is interpretation (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2015). It can be informal and qualitative, or formal but still qualitative. Sometimes quantitative interpretation can also be informative.

During this stage, data obtained during observation are analyzed. Finally, evaluation itself is conducted. At this stage, it is possible to evaluate the interpreted results and see if curriculum is efficient or it needs some changes and improvements. However, even if the curriculum proved to be effective, there is the necessity to review it once in at least five years to make it modern and corresponding to the needs of students.


Chou, C., & Tsai, C.-C. (2002). Developing web-based curricula: Issues and challenges. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 34(6), 623-636. Web.

Doll, W. (2013) The four R’s – An alternative to the Tyler rationale. In: D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), Curriculum studies reader (4th ed.) (pp. 215–222). New York, NY: Routledge Falmer.

Egan. K. (1980). John Dewey and the Social Studies Curriculum. Theory & Research in Social Education, 8(2), 37-55. Web.

Eisner, E.W. (2002). The educational imagination: On the design and evaluation of school programs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Ellis, A.K. (2014). Exemplars of curriculum theory. New York, NY: Routledge.

Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of teaching. New Jersey, NJ: Pearson.

Kliebard, H.M. (1982). Curriculum theory as metaphor. Theory into Practice, 21(1), 11-17. Web.

Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2015). Curriculum: Foundations, principles and issues (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.